South Sudan: Authorities crackdown on critics in cross-border campaign of intimidation

The South Sudanese authorities have in recent months escalated their crackdown on peaceful dissent by conducting a cross-border campaign of harassment, intimidation and attacks against critics to prevent a series of global protests on the country’s leadership from taking place, reveals a new briefing by Amnesty International.

The protests organized by the Red Card Movement (RCM), a nascent South Sudanese youth movement open to any individual who embraces non-violence, were planned to take place on 16 May in the South Sudanese capital Juba, and other locations around the world. The protests did not take place in Juba.

It is a shame that the authorities fail to appreciate the pivotal role that respecting, protecting and promoting human rights plays in the country’s growth and development.
Joan Nyanyuki, Amnesty International's Director for East Africa, the Horn and the Great Lakes

 “It is a shame that the authorities fail to appreciate the pivotal role that respecting, protecting and promoting human rights plays in the country’s growth and development,” said Joan Nyanyuki, Amnesty International’s Director for East Africa, the Horn and the Great Lakes.

“The Government of South Sudan must publicly denounce the escalating harassment, intimidation and attacks on people simply for exercising their rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association and stop attacks on critics both at home and abroad.”

Government threats

Just prior to the 16 May protests, senior members of South Sudan’s government made thinly veiled death threats against organizers and protestors.

The Government of South Sudan must publicly denounce the escalating harassment, intimidation and attacks on people simply for exercising their rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association and stop attacks on critics both at home and abroad.
Joan Nyanyuki, Amnesty International's Director for East Africa, the Horn and the Great Lakes

On 7 May, Information Minister Michael Makuei Lueth, threatened protesters with deadly consequences if they took part in the planned protests. “Those who want to protest are welcome but let them be ready to face consequences. We know those who are spearheading the attempts. We don’t want youth to die again,” he told South Sudan’s Radio Tamazuj.

This was followed a door-to-door search of people’s homes day and night, targeting suspected members and supporters of the RCM that was carried out by officers from the National Security Services (NSS) and the army. The authorities also deployed large number of troops in Juba and closed public spaces.

Those who want to protest are welcome but let them be ready to face consequences.
South Sudan Information Minister Michael Makuei Lueth

 Garang Aher, 30, was arrested by three NSS agents at his home on 19 May for alleged links with the movement after his phone number was found in a RCM WhatsApp group conversation leaked to the security agents. He was released on 23 May.

President Salva Kiir publicly reiterated deadly consequences for protestors on 21 May: “Those who are telling you to go before the government and protest, don’t they know that anything could happen, and people may die? If the government closes its mind and decides to use automatic weapons, why do you want to die for nothing?”

Those who are telling you to go before the government and protest, don’t they know that anything could happen, and people may die? If the government closes its mind and decides to use automatic weapons, why do you want to die for nothing?
Salva Kirr, President of the Republic of South Sudan

Men in Black

While protests organized outside South Sudan embassies in Australia, Washington DC, USA and Sudan took place unhindered, the intimidation and harassment of RCM members witnessed in South Sudan was replicated in Ethiopia and Kenya.

Two cameramen covering a peaceful RCM demonstration at the South Sudan embassy in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa were physically assaulted.

“I saw the embassy staff member slapping the video man and another man shoving violently another cameraman, who was badly beaten in his face,” an eyewitness told Amnesty International.

[You] want to create a bad image about South Sudan like Dong and Aggrey; see, now they are dead. If you want to go that route, the consequences will come.
South Sudanese people believed to be government informers

In Kenya, RCM members were threatened with arrest and deportation back to Juba, from where they would be forcibly disappeared. One of them told Amnesty International the threats were unnervingly blatant.

Other South Sudanese people they believed to be informants of the national security agency accused them of “want[ing] to create a bad image about South Sudan like Dong and Aggrey; see, now they are dead. If you want to go that route, the consequences will come.”

They also told Amnesty International they were followed by men in black suits. “Anonymous people are following us. When we stop, they stop. When we show up somewhere, they also show up. We are at risk and on the run.”

The South Sudanese people must be able to enjoy their human rights, including the rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association. People should be free to criticize their government and its policies without fear of reprisals.
Joan Nyanyuki, Amnesty International's Director for East Africa, the Horn and the Great Lakes

This intimidation and harassment continued after the aborted 16 May protests. On 9 July, South Sudan’s Independence Day, members and supporters of the movement staged a peaceful protest in front of the South Sudan embassy in Nairobi.

They were dispersed by Kenyan police despite complying with the legal requirement to notify the police about the planned protest. Three of them were arrested and charged for unlawful assembly. They were released on bail the next day and told Amnesty International they had been beaten by police officers.

“The South Sudanese people must be able to enjoy their human rights, including the rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association. People should be free to criticize their government and its policies without fear of reprisals,” said Joan Nyanyuki.